“Never in India election heat used to be so incinerating that it could burn the country’s very fabric and weaken its roots. Elections have always been fights; that’s what it’s about—but earlier the fights used to be on issues and ideas, on philosophies and certain moral stands leaders took.” n
“It was never a story of sleazy dogfights, where each one is trying not to outsmart the other on the arguments of progress and promises, but where one is always trying to malign and obliterate the other in vengeful spite.”
Divisive and acerbic diatribes defining the election lingo of current times have trumped the decency and decorum of public discourse expected of a mature democracy. Leaders are growing more aggressive and desperate to drive their point and using all sorts of cheesy words to draw attention. Perhaps for the first time in recent election history of the world’s largest democracy, four leaders of considerable repute and national influence were banned by the Election Commission from holding election rallies for a period of time. This is a shameful beginning of what seems to be a war of vendetta and inflated egos under which the real story of India’s development is getting relegated and its future course getting muddled. When leaders should brainstorm on what could be the vision for a new India of the 22nd century, they are deep in the muck of selling lies and hate.
Never in India election heat used to be so incinerating that it could burn the country’s very fabric and weaken its roots. Elections have always been fights; that’s what it’s about—but earlier the fights used to be on issues and ideas, on philosophies and certain moral stands leaders took. It was never a story of sleazy dogfights, where each one is trying not to outsmart the other on the arguments of progress and promises, but where one is always trying to malign and obliterate the other in vengeful spite. Here is where it is a threatening development for a healthy democracy because if we allow space to such low level of narrative, we degrade and devalue our culture and democratic diversity that happens to be our strength. The more liberal we are with such kind of election lingo, more difficult it will be to reinstate decency and refinement in our public conversation which we, in any case, are fast losing. Instead of assimilation and accommodation, which is our tradition, we are promoting intolerance, impatience and violence. In a diverse country like India, such an uncongenial spirit is only going to break our society into immutable factions of caste, creed, language, religion and beliefs. Breaking is always easy than uniting. India is a delicate balance of fine lines converging at a point of nationhood. Any tampering with that arrangement can disturb this fragile balance.
It just needs some fuel to fire the volatility that lies beneath the unity. Indians are very punctilious about their religion and caste beliefs and any purported threat to them can unite them for war. Here is where the role of leadership becomes very important. If leaders start selling potentially combustible stuff, sooner than later it will end up in a fire unless someone comes ahead and douses it at the start. If the fire spreads, it can engulf the whole country. Leaders must draw their limit and frame their words in such a way that shapes the conscience of the nation. That’s what leadership is all about. A leader is not a cruel ruler or a king, who has to save his kingdom; he is the representative of the people, who are supposed to show them the right way. Leadership is not about personal gains but the building of a nation and improving the standard of social refinement and culture. If the leader himself falls in the trap of pandering to people’s emotions and sway to their tune, he cannot give society an objective leadership, which is an urgent need. We need statesmen and visionaries instead of party spokespersons who dilute petty and parochial political agendas with national needs.
Such a style of leadership can benefit a particular party but can never be beneficial for the country, because the personal or party interests will always get an upper hand over national interests. That’s what is reflecting in today’s speeches of our leaders. There is no mechanism that can control and demarcate the limit where the line has to be drawn. Model Code may be applicable today, but vituperative comments run all through the year through different channels and platforms. Legal injunctions can push a good cause but human propensities don’t change unless the right effort is taken at a personal level – through education, introspection, discussion and consciousness. It is much about the discretion of the leaders themselves and they must rise above their personal predilections and reservations to envision a national framework of development.
For this, the nation must be first seen as a whole – despite all its diversions, discrepancies and multiplicity. As long as we stand for this and that belief, or this or that religion or party or creed or language, we are missing the larger interests of the nation. We are much better off as a united nation than a fractured one because a fractured society weakens the country and opens up the chinks for invasion by destructive forces. All through its history, India has suffered due to this habit of people sparring among themselves navigating the narrow premises of power, authority, religion etc., thereby neglecting the greater dangers that threaten the nation. It is time we rethought and redrew our tack and trend to orient ourselves to a more matured discourse.
We must shun, disown, downplay and protest invectives that are in poor taste and get down to a personal level. Political heat in election time is understandable but the acceptable limit has to be adhered to by leaders as well as the public, especially when they are violated even in general political discourse throughout the year. If people don’t encourage or lap up denigrating and offensive remarks against individuals or communities that are carted out from pulpits to whip up emotions, leaders will be forced to be cautious. As long as we comply, we are complicit to the pandering brigade, which is often blind to their leaders’ follies— and blind adulation, though a curse of Indian democracy, is also the biggest reason for the failure of democracy as an effective tool to empower people.
It is time that people rise and unite to disown and discourage incendiary comments and remarks on individuals or communities. By the way, leaders must be pushed to talk on issues on the ground and find out ways to solve people’s problems rather than complicating them through insinuating speeches and statements. India’s development roadmap lies in the hands of our leaders. The better we choose, the better we get.